Tara Wellman, who talks with me every Sunday night on Gateway To Baseball Heaven (and, as you know, has a great video blog going), has made the point that this Cardinals team seems to be immune from momentum. Sometimes, that’s a good thing. Most of the time, though, we’re not using that as a selling point for this squad. After finally seeming to get over the hump with a sweep of the Brewers, a team with momentum would come out and probably take the series with the third place team in their division, wouldn’t you think?
Yeah, momentum means basically nothing for this club.
It was a weekend that inspired passions, renewed a rivalry, created questions about command, and, eventually, finished up with one of the most exciting games of the year. Getting to that point, though, was no fun road.
Friday (8-3 loss)
Hero: While I was hoping it might be Tommy Pham after that bases-loaded walk, that turned out to be less of the turning point than we anticipated. Instead, the tag goes to Brandon Moss for his three-hit day, which was 60% of the team’s total. Granted, they had three walks and a fairly notable hit by pitch, but Moss was really the only one that had anything going against Dan Haren. Well, that’s less than accurate, as they did get three runs of Haren, who left before the fifth inning was done. It was the bullpen–supposedly an Achilles’ heel for the baby bears–that was able to work out of the jam he left and really not let their team get back into one.
Goat: Blame it on the umpire if you want, and I won’t disagree that there were some questionable calls when you look at the balls and strikes, but I’m sorry, Lance Lynn, you really have to be better than that. Six walks? Again not lasting through four innings? When you look at what Lynn has done against the Pirates and the Cubs, it makes it much less difficult to see him not being part of the postseason rotation. While we always wonder how Mike Matheny‘s loyalty is going to play into that decision, my feeling is Lynn’s vocal outburst from the dugout toward the ump didn’t do him any favors in that regard either. Lynn’s gone 5.2 innings and allowed nine runs in his last two starts against the Cubs and 12 runs (“only” 8 earned) in 4.2 innings over two starts against Pittsburgh. Is that what you want to see in the NLDS?
Notes: Pretty much all that anyone wanted to talk about after this one was the beanball war that apparently got started. I talked about this in the last segment of the latest Conversations With C70, but the fact is that it does appear that hitting Anthony Rizzo was intentional. That said, they brushed the leg of his uniform. It’s not like they hit someone in the head like Haren did. Why they felt that was something they needed to do, I don’t know, but at least Matt Belisle handled it in the best way something like that could be handled.
Of course Joe Maddon, who looks like he’s slightly deranged at times with the white hair, especially if he gets it sticking up, started throwing around the “vigilante” term and “we’ll not start it but we’ll end it” which, incidentally, was proven wrong–the Cardinals ended it by not going around throwing at folks even though they were hit three times by Cubs pitchers in Saturday’s game. I mean, sure, perhaps they were all unintentional, but given how you shot your mouth off, Joe, don’t expect anyone to actually believe that.
Also, given the fact that Rizzo has been hit more times than Floyd Mayweather this year, perhaps you either need to take it as a part of doing business or adjust your stance somewhat. Tyler Lyons hit Rizzo first, but that looked like a pitch that came out of his hand wrong, one similar to the ball four he threw a few batters earlier. These things happen–it’s fairly obvious that Haren didn’t intend to hit Matt Holliday in the head, especially since he’d buzzed Tony Cruz earlier and it was a terrible place for a HBP. Again, why the Cardinals felt like they needed to send a message, I don’t know, but it surely seems like the Cubs ran with it.
Back in 2007, Ned Yost, then with the Brewers, seemed to focus more on evening scores than winning games, even though the Brewers were in contention at the time. He plunked Albert Pujols with a 3-2 eighth inning lead, then saw the Cards score four more to put that one out of reach. (I was looking for my post on the game, since that was the early days of the blog, but apparently back then I was just too busy coming up with crazy trade ideas and didn’t talk much about the game the next day. It was before Heroes and Goats, after all.) They didn’t make the playoffs. While the Cubs aren’t going to have that fate, it would probably behoove them to worry a bit more about the overall picture.
Steve Cishek and Seth Maness both gave up big home runs to Starlin Castro. The first one was damaging enough–I turned off the TV after the second one. I’ve got better ways to spend a fall Friday afternoon than being frustrated at a ball game. In theory, at least.
Saturday (5-4 loss)
Hero: Matt Carpenter. His two-run homer in the ninth, after the third hit-by-pitch by Cub hurlers, gave the Cardinals some life and seemed to show that they were going to end the beanball war in their way, by using it to spur a comeback. Alas, it came just short, but it was more spark than we’d seen up to this point.
Goat: Michael Wacha. While it wasn’t the ugliest line, four runs in six innings, coming out of 11 baserunners, isn’t exactly the sharp pitching that we’ve come to expect from St. Louis starters, especially Mr. Wacha. Over the last month, Wacha is 1-2 with an ERA at 5.14. Someone pointed out on Twitter that his FIP and xFIP over a recent span of time (and forgive me, I can’t remember what it was nor where I saw this) was right in line with what Lynn’s had been over the same span, even though the overall results were of course better for Wacha. September’s been especially brutal for Wacha in that regard, with a FIP over 8.00, probably due to the fact that he’s walked 11 in 15 September innings.
Should we be worried about what we’ll get out of Wacha? It does seem like it’s a reasonable supposition. While we’ve been willing to toss Lynn out of the postseason rotation, we have to acknowledge that the ideal of Wacha in the rotation doesn’t match up with the current results. Again, he seems to have been better, but I don’t know that when he goes out to the mound he’s that lock we remember from the 2013 playoffs.
Notes: As mentioned, three HBP by Cub pitchers here–Kolten Wong twice and Greg Garcia once. I’m not sure what it means, if anything, but the only guy that got clipped this weekend that didn’t bat lefty was Holliday. Do lefties have a high rate of being plunked? I could imagine that they do, though I’ve got nothing to back that up. Which, granted, is typical for this space.
Jonathan Broxton came into this one and allowed a single, a bunt, and a single that scored the fifth run (which, as it turned out, was the winning one) before getting the next two hitters. I mention this to set up a discussion here in a bit about the end of Sunday’s game.
After 0-8 with runners in scoring position, in this game the Cardinals were 1-9. There are some times I wish they could go back, get some of that 2013 magic, and bring it forward, don’t you? This offense isn’t as bad as it seems at times, it just can’t get the hit that they really need.
Matt Adams was 0-2 in this one. With Brandon Moss hitting a little better of late (five for nine in the two starts before Sunday) I’m not sure Adams is going to have enough time to get right, assuming he can get right at all. That’s a discussion for another time, though. Right now, I’d leave him off the postseason roster, but nobody actually lets me fill it out.
Sunday (4-3 win)
Hero: Jason Heyward. There were a lot of great moments in the last couple of innings. Trevor Rosenthal did exceptional work in the ninth. Tony Cruz gave Quintin Berry his first caught stealing of his career (though it was his first attempt of 2015, as he was recently called up to be a pinch-runner) and did so basically cold, coming off the bench when Molina was hurt and seeing Berry challenge him almost immediately. A strong start by Carlos Martinez. All of these were key to the win as well, but I don’t think anyone in St. Louis or Chicago is going to soon forget this:
There are moments that stand out in pennant races. I’m pretty sure that Adron Chambers is always going to be a name folks remember in St. Louis due to his mad dash a game against the Cubs late in the 2011 run. Scott Spiezio‘s triple against Milwaukee in 2006, which gave that struggling club a much-needed win. Highlights that define September. That one goes in the trophy case right next to the others. No matter if the season doesn’t turn out like ’06 or ’11 (and we of course hope it does), Heyward’s throw to preserve a key game against a big rival is going to be stuff of legend.
Goat: Jonathan Broxton. OK, so Kevin Siegrist comes in for the second day in a row (though, to be fair, he did have a few days off before that) and gets the last out of the seventh after Martinez hit Starlin Castro (something that didn’t seem to inflame passions, probably because it took a review to determine that it had hit him) and allowed a single to Dexter Fowler. Siegrist gets the last out in the seventh, but struggles in the eighth, allowing a single and a walk.
Mike Matheny has two pitchers warming up, Broxton and Rosenthal. 90% of managers would have brought in Broxton here and Matheny is right in line with that, but it counts as first-guessing when you put on Twitter that Rosenthal should have been the call before Broxton throws a pitch, right? The game hung in the balance right there. It was a two-run game at the time with Kris Bryant coming up. A misplaced fastball loses you the game, pretty much. Sometimes saving the game doesn’t just happen in the ninth.
I’m sure the thought for Matheny was not wanting Rosenthal to pitch two innings, but he didn’t have to. If everything worked out the way things were planned, Rosenthal retires Bryant, Tommy La Stella, and Addison Russell. That means the ninth would see their 8-9-1 batters. Yes, you’d see Starlin Castro, but wouldn’t you rather your best face the meat of their lineup and your second-tier guy face the bottom of it? Especially when he gave up a run to that same team the day before? Broxton’s had a lot of good outings and I’m sure Matheny had some idea of showing that the club still believed in him, but this wasn’t the time for a loyalty display.
Again, it’s hard to fault Matheny for doing something almost no one in baseball (save maybe his opposite number in this series, and even then probably not) would have done. But it was one of those times that just screamed for some original thinking and we didn’t see it. Of course, then Broxton walks Bryant and La Stella, forcing in a run. Walks were terrible this weekend, as Cardinal hurlers gave up 22 of them in three games, including 11 in the opener. You can blame the umpire in one game, maybe, but all three? Seems like maybe they need to rethink the approach a little bit.
Notes: Seth Maness comes in and gets the double play, which is what we say all the time, just this time was a little more dramatic and a little more unique. We assume that Molina’s hand was hurt by Rizzo’s slide (ironic that, given all the talk from the Cubs about vigilantism, it’s their players that have knocked out a key player on both of their NL Central challengers on slides this week) but perhaps it was from catching that bullet from Heyward. The fun thing about this new StatCast is seeing stats you never have really seen before and Heyward’s rocket was clocked at 95.5 mph. It’s a signature play, a huge one, and just another reason Heyward needs to be in St. Louis next year.
Martinez had a fine day on the mound, almost getting through seven innings with just a couple of runs allowed. Those runs were questionable as well, as Martinez believed he had Chris Coghlan struck out to end the third but the umpire disagreed. Martinez let his composure slip a little bit, walking Coghlan then to load the bases and giving up a single to Rizzo. He gathered himself, though, and proceeded to shut the Cubs down after that. He’s definitely shown an increase in maturity this season and it’s a great sign for continued success.
Pham and Piscotty both hit homers in the first, putting the Cards out to an early lead. It doesn’t seem hard–if they can get a multiple-run lead early, they usually win. If they get behind by multiple runs, they usually don’t. We’ve seen too much of the latter and not enough of the former in recent weeks.
Molina’s going to have an MRI on his thumb and wrist today and we’ll know how much damage is there. Hopefully it’s something that a week of rest will allow him to deal with. While you’d rather see him out there, of course, this team should be able to manage against the Reds and the Brewers if he needs to heal up. He needs the rest anyway–he’s hitting just .140 in September while approaching a career high in innings caught. If it’s something that’s more severe, that causes concern. Cruz is fine for playing against the second-division, but I’m pretty sure we don’t want him out there every day in October. We’ll wait for the test results and see.
Also, Adam Wainwright‘s tests are supposed to be today and we might have a better idea of whether we’ll see him before the end of the year. It still seems a real long shot for anything more than a cameo inning, perhaps in the game on Sunday that ends the home portion of the schedule, but I guess stranger things have happened. I just don’t know what.
Plus, Holliday is continuing to run and expects to be playing the field by the end of this homestand. I hope it’s closer to the end of this series with the Reds rather than Saturday and Sunday. I think this club really needs an in-sync Holliday. A rusty one can be valuable as well, of course, but let’s hope he gets plenty of at bats.
As I say, the last homestand of the season starts today. It seems wrong that a team should have to open on the road and end on the road, doesn’t it? Give them the first day or the last day in front of their fans. That’s not the way it works, though, and the Cardinals will finish 2015 in Pittsburgh and Atlanta. It’s amazingly hard to believe the season is that close to being done. Sure, the magic number is at 10, but how can it almost be October already?
We get a rematch of the first game of the Cincinnati series of two weekends ago when John Lamb faces off against Jaime Garcia. As you remember, Lamb walked six guys in five innings and the Cardinals couldn’t do anything with them. St. Louis is still the only team on his game log that he’s had any sort of success with, as he gave up three runs in four innings out in San Francisco in his last start. Maybe being at home will help them be a little more effective at getting a key hit and putting up runs on a guy that knows what that feels like. (For some reason, Baseball-Reference’s Play Index only shows a John Lamb that pitched in the early ’70s, so I can’t get a chart, but go dig up that box score and that’ll do it.)
Garcia was hit around by the Reds in Cincy, but he restored some sanity against the Brewers, save that one bad inning. While his home/road splits aren’t as severe as they were earlier in his career, he does have a sub-2.00 ERA in Busch this season, so hopefully that trend continues tonight and the Cardinals can work on chopping that magic number down.
Pittsburgh plays in Colorado this evening while the Cubs host the Brewers. If the magic number is going to drop, it’s likely going to need to come from a win rather than hoping others can help out. Baseball is strange, though!